post inspired this question: What can be done on a community-scale to successfully accommodate our island's homeless population?
Homelessness seems like a conundrum. Here on/in Key West, for instance.
Here on Key West, an island 2miles wide by 4miles long, because of:
1) our island's perpetual, ready access to alcohol and marijuana;
2) our temperate climate, and;
3) our reputation for tolerance and acceptance (the official philosophy of the city Key West, "All people are created equal members of One Human Family"
we have a sizable population of people who are homeless.
Because houses for people who move here now go for $250,000-to-$10,000,000, we have a number of the homefull
people who are/get upset about this.
Completely exasperating the problem is a history of island-over development which has virulently reduced the availability of open space. This lack of public and undeveloped space has led to a density crunch. We have a standing population of 25k but with visitors and tourists we regularly have a population of 40k-to70k. During the week-long Fantasy Fest celebration (think rockstar Mardi Gras), the population can go over 120k.
That's a great many people on an island that is 2miles by 4.
Right now, with the winter approaching, our homeless population increases even triples. And most everyone works around it. But here's the rub: No one knows what to do.
Our people who are homeless fall into four types:
a) leisure class (hobos, rainbow kids, "hippies," back-packers);
b) mentally ill;
c) fallen through the cracks, needing a hand;
d) outcasts (dirtbags, good-for-nothings, other names meaning users of people).
Of these, many have substance abuse problems. Key West is a natural landing spot for substance abusers. Not only are alcohol, marijuana and crack easy to come by here, Key West is literally the end of the road
There is not enough space for camps. Moving people to another key is only so successful since the availability of goods and drugs is on Key West.
So the question of what to do to achieve some long-term success in interacting with people who either are [homeless-and-need-help] or are [homeless-and-do-not] is impacted by our natural limitations of space and resources but even more so by virtue of the fact that aside from boats there is only one way on the island or off and back to the mainland (via the 110-mile newly declared "All American Road
" US 1 Overseas Highway).
Meaning, once you get to Key West, especially by foot or hitchhiking, you are here
Consequently, people are always working on homelessness.
Now my own practice is to "adopt" individuals who are hopeful candidates who I work to transition to stability. This actually works. All I do is provide cel phones ($10 plus $10 for phone card), availability to showering and similar resources, and a reference. Working with the police department enables me to further validate individuals. Lastly, helping to secure lost documentation such as social security cards and drivers licenses can all the difference in the world.
For me, this has been the most successful approach. It is personal, it means making time, and it means practicing compassion and patience, but the results are great.
But on a larger scale, advocating such an approach is problematic. Many people who are homeless have mental health issues, ranging from mild schizophrenia to full-blown bi-polar disorders.* This can present challenges beyond most people's capability to manage.
*Horribly, such conditions are often worsened by police officers implementing a "no overnight stays in public places" policy which means constantly waking up sleeping individuals, creating senses of confusion, disorientation, and persecution, and subsequently reinforcing existing conditions: Sleep deprivation is like poison.
Which leads me to wonder, what can be done?
I mean this: With all the communities and individuals being impacted by the challenge of accommodating people who are homeless, and with all the good and compassionate minds working on the challenge, what is working? Because I want to know!
Because I want the world to be better! I want to help people who need and want help! And we are open to new ideas and new ways of thinking here on Key West!